Candidates’ Late Charges Enliven Council Elections

Times Urban Affairs Writer

Fewer than 25% of the eligible voters are expected to go to the polls Tuesday in four Orange County cities where 26 candidates are vying for 10 city council seats.

Although a flurry of last-minute charges and counter-charges has raised the political temperature in several races, voting officials are projecting a low turnout because the elections do not coincide with the June 3 statewide primary or the November general election, and involve no major, controversial ballot measures.

Charges of conflict of interest have dominated the election in La Habra, while Tustin voters have been treated to a candidate who uses two names and is running against his roommate. Growth is a key issue in Los Alamitos and San Juan Capistrano, as it has been in previous elections.

La Habra


Two challengers have charged two incumbents with conflicts of interest. The four candidates are vying for two at-large seats.

Candidate Douglas Bystry, 23, last week asked why Mayor Pro Tem Kent Roberts, 43, did not abstain from several votes on a redevelopment project that involved businessmen who are Roberts’ partners in other real estate projects.

One of the businessmen in question is Roberts’ campaign co-chairman; another is a campaign finance co-director.

Roberts, a hotel owner whose family has lived in La Habra since 1923, has said that he did not abstain from voting on the proposal because he had no personal gain or loss at stake--and thus no conflict of interest.


“I know these people,” he said. “They may be my business partners in other matters. It has nothing to do with the one (issue) that is before me. Who’s involved in it, I couldn’t care less. It’s the projects, not the people.”

Nevertheless, Bystry--a UCLA political science graduate and co-owner of a public relations firm--has a complaint over the matter pending with the Fair Political Practices Commission in Sacramento.

A second challenger, Steven Wilder, 27, has criticized Roberts and William D. Mahoney, 46, the city’s mayor, for their “many self-interests.”

Wilder, a financial management administrator with Rockwell International, said campaign disclosure reports show that both incumbents have received campaign contributions from various developers and business interests.

In some cases, these contributions have prompted Roberts and Mahoney to abstain on key votes, Wilder said, adding that “if I have to abstain, then I can’t represent you.”

Mahoney has denied these charges, saying he does not represent any special interests. Both incumbents have stressed their experience, saying it is necessary to attract new business to their community.


A large field of challengers is vying for two seats. Since only one incumbent, Ursula E. Kennedy, 49, is seeking reelection, there will be at least one new council member elected.


The challengers include roommates Stephen Johnson and Jim Scott, who is also known as E. H. Winchester, the name he was given at birth.

Johnson, 39, a lawyer, filed a complaint with the district attorney’s office last Thursday over Tustin Police Chief Charles R. Thayer’s attempt to have his roommate, Scott, investigated for using two names.

Also running is John Kelly, 24, in his fourth try for a seat. Kelly, who first sought the office when he was 18, has charged that incumbents Ronald H. White and Don Saltarelli, along with Mayor Frank H. Greinke--who has decided not to seek reelection--control Tustin with a political “machine.”

Other candidates are John Norman Butler, 30, a real estate broker and former city water commissioner, and Eileen M. Dow, a 20-year resident of Tustin and president of the Walnut Park Broadmoor Homeowners Assn.

James A. Niemiec, 45, said his experience in land investment makes him better qualified than the other candidates. He said he supports controlled growth and wants to retain Tustin’s “country” qualities. Clyde Tracy, 61, said his blue-collar background as a tool specialist is an asset.

During the campaign, Butler said traffic is Tustin’s worst problem and argued for more controlled growth. Johnson and Scott, meanwhile, are running as conservatives who want less government intervention in business and believe that the incumbents have been too “liberal.”

Kennedy, the council’s first and only woman member, cast the lone vote against a controversial eastside development that will increase the city’s population by 50% in the next few years.

Los Alamitos


The mayor and two planning commissioners are among six candidates seeking three seats. Two incumbents, Kenneth Zommick and David Lander, have decided not to seek third terms.

Mayor Anthony R. Selvaggi, 61, is running for a second term. A former planning commissioner, Selvaggi serves on the Orange County Airport Land Use Commission.

Planning commissioners Thomas J. Taufer, 52, an electrical engineer, and Robert P. Wahlstrom, 53, a vice president with Specialty Restaurant Corp. in Long Beach, are also seeking seats.

Other candidates are Marianne G. Stiles, 47, a programmer analyst; Alice B. Jempsa, a teacher, and Robert Y. Geraghty, 33, a property manager.

Stiles has promised to answer her telephone nightly after work to listen to residents’ concerns. Jempsa, an assistant principal and teacher at Leal Elementary School in Cerritos, said she wants to make sure that the parks and recreation program meets the needs of a changing population, which has a growing number of young families.

Jempsa also said she would try to ensure that the Los Alamitos Military Base is used only by military planes and not general aviation.

Geraghty said the main focus of his campaign is to get teen-agers more involved in the community and to keep the city’s property well maintained. He said he hopes to add “a little new blood” to the existing council.

San Juan Capistrano

Anthony Bland, Gary L. Hausdorfer and Mayor Phil Schwartze are seeking reelection against two challengers, including local businesswoman Jean LaBurn, and Russ Neal, a nuclear engineer at the San Onofre power plant.

Bland, 47, a contractor, said the major issues affecting the city originate outside San Juan Capistrano, including “unmanaged growth in the south county and transportation problems. These things threaten the kind of life we have in this city.”

Hausdorfer, 39, senior vice president of a mortgage company, said the main issues of the low-key campaign are “the continued stability and cohesiveness of the community. The future of the city revolves around redevelopment of downtown and development of several large parcels of land, which need to be treated with care.”

Schwartze, 42, is vice president of a land planning firm in Irvine. He also represents the county’s cities on the Orange County Local Agency Formation Commission.

Neal, 34, said he wants to see the downtown redevelopment plan put to a citywide vote.

“In general, there is overregulation and overcontrol in this city, and I want to reduce that,” he said. As examples, Neal pointed to a city ordinance on tree trimming and a rent-control program at a local mobile home park. “We need to get out of that kind of thing,” he said.

LaBurn, 57, said she generally agrees with the council’s current course but thinks that local businesses need to be better represented.

“All of the (current) members live here, but they don’t work here day to day,” she said. “We need to have somebody people can talk to.”

LaBurn supports the redevelopment plan but said it has been poorly explained to the business community. “They’re afraid that their buildings are just going to disappear,” she said.

Times staff writers Bob Schwartz, Roxana Kopetman, Kevin I. Carter and Amalia Duarte contributed to this story.